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Less Than Half of N.Y.C. Budget Is Spent on Classroom

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In a move seen as nudging the New York City school system toward the chopping block, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani released a report last week that says just 49 percent of what the system spends per pupil makes it into the classroom.

Moreover, it says, most students actually receive only 29 percent of the per-pupil expenditure in the New York City public schools--largely because the system spends a quarter of its budget on programs such as special education.

In a statement last week, Mr. Giuliani called the analysis of the school budget, conducted by the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, "a major step toward identifying where the money allocated for city children is really going" and making the school system more efficient.

"It points out how complicated the system is and the need for the system to be restructured," agreed Donald D. Singer, the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the city's 4,500-member administrators' union.

But Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines issued a statement disputing several figures in the report, questioning its overall credibility, and complaining that the report had been released to the news media before he reviewed it.

Mr. Cortines also questioned the motives of Mayor Giuliani, who has bitterly feuded with him over school spending in the past, and contended that other independent studies have found that a much larger share of the budget was making its way into schools.

"I am concerned that people might construe this as essentially a political document instead of a budgetary, factual one," Mr. Cortines said.

"Obviously, I hope that is not the case," he added. "If it were, it would take us back to square one."

Ayo Harrington, the president of an umbrella organization called United Parents Associations of New York City, last week alleged that those preparing the report likely set out to find waste in order to buttress the Mayor's efforts to gain more control over the school system and its budget.

"School systems around the country that are doing better are doing so, in part, because they are not dependent on local financial politics," Ms. Harrington said.

Follow the Money

Herman Badillo, appointed last spring by Mr. Giuliani to the new post of special adviser for the oversight of education, requested the budget analysis. At the time of Mr. Badillo's appointment, the Mayor had been proposing sweeping cuts in the school system's budget and had complained that the system had lost track of much of its money.

The feud between the Mayor and the chancellor then reached such a pitch that Mr. Cortines resigned for two days, rescinding his decision only after Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York intervened.

In analyzing the system's $8 billion budget for the 1993-94 school year, the Coopers & Lybrand research team found that the central school board has limited knowledge of where its employees actually work or where its money goes. The report says the board has lost track of where and how a $3.4 billion share of its budget is actually spent.

The report also says that the system spent only about $4,280 per regular-classroom student, and that only $2,300 of that amount made it into the classroom. The amount spent on students in various categorical programs was much higher. Full-time special-education pupils account for about $16,900 each, with less than $11,000 going into the classroom.

Ronnie L. Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, maintained last week that "if regular education was properly funded, we would not have as many kids in special education."

Union Defenses

The release of the report prompted the teachers' and administrators' unions, as well as others involved in the city education system, to shore up their defenses against likely calls for budget cuts.

"If the city tries to do any more budget-cutting, we want to make sure that any savings go into the classroom and not to plug the city's budget gap," Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Singer of the administrators' union, meanwhile, called for the school system to cut back on the number of teachers performing various administrative duties before it considers laying off his union's members.

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